It’s a long story, but the short-hand explanation is, as ever, my very naughty borderline personality disorder. Hours of emergency therapy later, I can see that intense stimulation even of the gloriously enjoyable variety, triggers my ‘overload’ switch and that sets off all the tedious BPD self-destructive stuff. Ian Hulatt, our chair (better known for his day job as RCN mental health lead) described it as being like having too many programmes running at once on your computer. They may be the most delightful mix of programmes to help you do everything from find the perfect recipe for cornflake crispies to converting videos into vacuum cleaners, but it’s all too much. Crashes ensue.
As I’ve looked at the features of the holiday which made me go all bonkers, I realised that they have a relevance to mental health wards. I won’t laboriously spell out what I see as the implications of these factors, but hope that some of them may be handy in our members’ impressively continuous process of contemplating what more they can do to improve patients’ experiences. I’ll muddle into the list a bunch of factors which were sanity-restoring. Some things both helped and aggravated.
Oh. A quick bit of factual background to the trip. It was a 3 week Complete Cuba tour, and when they said Complete…. By day 6 we’d stayed in 5 different towns and cities! Each day was a full-on mix of history (frankly, it’s amazing that Cuba ever managed to gain its independence, as their National Heroes habitually set off to battle armed with a nice book of poems and a water pistol), architecture, culture, dancing, people, dogs, nature. And rum. What a lot of rum. Not for me, though, as I’m still managing to remain abstinent from my spectacular £50 a day skunk habit and daren’t risk replacing drugs with booze. (One of the main learning points from the holiday was not to book ambitious trips when very stoned.)
Despite being cognitively ‘adjusted’, I did manage to book a group tour. This was fab (and a bonus was that one of the group is a talented film-maker and we made a quick Star Wards DVD, which will be on our website shortly.) But amongst the pre-trip info to bring snorkel, gifts for homestay hosts, Great Train Robbery quantities of cash because credit cards etc won’t work, they forgot to tell me that the numbers of others on the group in week three was – 0. Just the brilliant tour guide, Valeri, and me. Hence this blog’s headline Close Obs in Cuba, which was Ian’s comment on the situation! It did all feel very pre-revolutionary, rich Westerner, and indeed like the weeks I’ve spent being specialed in hospital. But I just managed not being locked up, so decided to return to Havana and be alone for the rest of the third week.
3. Anchors – things that gave me a sense of continuity, familiarity and predictability, including places, people, rituals. (I enjoyed a service in Havan’s, an activity I tend to avoid in London.)
4. Touch and boundaries (Cubans are very very friendly, open, generous and I’ve never been kissed so often by near strangers. I’m having to re-educate myself now back in the UK eg it isn’t appropriate to kiss museum staff you’ve had a little chat with.)
5. Commonality and disparity including issues of wealth, language, autonomy
6. Joy, celebration, festivity, music, dance, singing. (We made an impromptu stop on one of our afternoon journeys, as there was a street party celebrating National Teacher’s Day. Being Cuba… we were of course welcomed, included, rummed, Salsad….)
7. Autonomy. Self-determination. Freedom. Choices. And the balance between too few and too many.
8. Invasion, force, imperialism, colonialism, oppression, cruelty. (We had lunch on New Year’s Day at Hotel Guantanamo, just down the road from the illegal American naval/torture base.)
9. Non-mainstream diets. (My one teeny reservation about Cuba is that it isn’t so great for vegetarians. Unless you are seriously addicted to the national rice and beans dish. I was overjoyed to finally discover a Vegetarian Restaurant, with a nice matching name. There wasn’t a menu but the waitress told me there was soup, rice and vegetables, chicken “Er, I thought this was a vegetarian restaurant?” “Si. We also have fish.”)
10. Self development. Learning. (The photo is of a shower, and you can just see the electric plug dangling, which of course gets plugged into the power socket also just visible. The learning point here? Remembering to contain my suicidality long enough to take a, rather cold, shower.)
12. Humour. (The guy on the left is a piece of street sculpture and the one on the right refers to himself as an interactive artist.)
13. Drink, drugs, rock’n’roll and sex. (Gays are still scarcely tolerated by the state, which wasn’t as actively awkward for me as the ‘consistency’ of the veggie offerings, but a bizarre anomaly in such a progressive country.)
14. Differentiating people. (Tourists form a pragmatically created separate class, eg with a parallel currency, shops which only accept local currency etc.)
15. Acknowledgment, acceptance, warmth, trust. Naivety, being taken advantage of, betrayal of trust, opportunism. (I was subject to a very low-key scam, ‘befriended’ by a local. I got off lightly, with just an £8 bill for one mojito and a lemonade and a £5 penalty charge to extract myself from the proposed cigar-purchasing trip to his mate’s house.)
16. Being able to understand and manage situations. Language, non-verbal communication. (While out there I read the extraordinary book of the TV series Tribe. Given how well explorer Bruce Parry communicated with people about everything from penis decoration to the best ways to prepare and eat cockroaches, I felt I could produce a reasonable standard of friendly mime.)
17. Serendipity. (I was wandering aimlessly, happily, maplessly through Havana when I saw the Pastors for Peace buses, which visit annually on a goodwill mission from America. So brilliant given what an immoral and nonsensical outrage the American blockade of Cuba is.)